Saturday, March 31, 2012

Indy 500 Decanter of the Day: Mario Andretti

I don’t have too many Indy decanters. They’re neat, but they also take up a lot of space, are difficult to clean and tend to be expensive. 

Unless you can find one for free!

My first job out of school after graduating from Purdue (Boiler Up!) was as a sports writer for the Logansport (Ind.) Pharos-Tribune. I lived in a house that was divided into four apartments. Two elderly ladies lived in the apartments upstairs. 

One day, much to my surprise and delight, one of the ladies THREW OUT this porcelain prize, which formerly was filled with bourbon. Not wanting to let a treasure slip by, I snagged it – right out of the trash can. 

Mario used No. 9 in 1972, so I guess that’s the year it came out, or maybe the next year. I’ve seen yellow copies of this piece as well on eBay. Maybe there were plans for a Joe Leonard car but they figured Mario would sell better, so his name was slapped on the side and the manufacturer figured no one would be the wiser. 

In any event, it sort of looks like an Indy car; it’s definitely one of the more unique pieces in my Mario collection.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Indianapolis 500 Postcard of the Day: 1975 Front Row

The 1991 front row of Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti is considered by many the greatest front row in the history of the Indianapolis 500. Hard to argue. But this one from 1975 is pretty good, too. A.J. Foyt has the pole, which he wrestled away from Gordon Johncock late in the day during the first day of qualifying, with Bobby Unser on the outside. I think this was the first time the front row was made up of former winners. This was the second 500 I got to attend, and I can still remember my delight when my mother brought out the tickets after dinner one night in early May and said we were all going.

Unfortunately, the seats Mom obtained weren’t the greatest – Stand C (which is OK), Row D (which isn’t). This very low seating arrangement – and we might have actually sat in folding chairs – afforded us great sight lines … of helmets and rear wings. It also was extremely hot, so we ran through all our drinks and were sucking on ice cubes before the start of the race. Fortunately (?) an epic rainstorm hit the track, cooling us off, but also drenching us. Still, glad I went because I (sort of) got to see Bobby Unser, who was one of my favorite drivers, win.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Indy Driver of the Day: A.J. Foyt

Continuing our trip down memory lane, 1972 style, here’s a rare postcard of A.J. Foyt. Rare in that this is the last time A.J. raced in the Indianapolis 500 without using the No. 14. Roger McCluskey, driving an Antares (which itself is worthy of its own entry), had No. 14 that year. I got this postcard as a kid, and taped it up in my room, hence the tears in the corners.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March, er, May Madness for the Indianapolis 500

Growing up in Indiana, another sport occupied my mind besides IndyCar racing. That would be basketball. Long before filling out an NCAA bracket and entering an office pool became a national obsession, people in Indiana would chart the HIGH SCHOOL basketball tournament, guessing which teams would emerge from the various sectionals, regionals and semi-states on their way to Indianapolis for the state finals. (This was back when Indiana had single-class basketball.)

As I watched this year’s NCAA Tournament unfold – and my bracket implode – a crazy thought entered my mind: How about making an NCAA Tournament-type bracket with drivers from throughout the history of the Indianapolis 500? Who would be the No. 1 seeds? And instead of play-in games, I would have “drive-in” matchups.

If any of you did the Speedway’s “Greatest 33” last year, you know how tough that was. Actually, coming up with 68 drivers (to replicate the NCAA’s 68-team field) wasn’t any easier. My top four seeds are Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Wilbur Shaw. I tried to include all the winners and also wanted to set up some enticing matchups if the seeds held to form. For example, A.J. would take on Mario Andretti in the final of the “A.J. Foyt Regional” and Al Unser Sr. and Bobby Unser could meet in the final of the “Al Unser Sr. Regional.”

Of course, like the NCAA Tournament, there could be upsets along the way.

Realizing that the bracket is kind of hard to read (OK, it's IMPOSSIBLE to read - it was difficult to find a blank bracket and get everything put together, scanned and so forth), here are the various “regionals”:

Rick Mears

1.  Rick Mears
16. Kelly Petillo/George Robson
8. Bill Cummings
9. Dan Gurney
5. Rodger Ward
12. Graham Hill
4. Mauri Rose
13. Billy Arnold
6. Ralph De Palma
11. Bobby Rahal
3. Emerson Fittipaldi
14. Gil De Ferran
7. Tom Sneva
10. Rene Thomas
2. Bill Vukovich
15. Louis Schneider

Al Unser Sr.

Al Unser Sr. 1
Howard Wilcox/George Souders 16
Rex Mays 8
Ted Horn                9
Jim Clark 5
Floyd Roberts 12
Tommy Milton 4
Bob Sweikert 13
Jim Rathmann 6
Sam Hanks 11
Al Unser Jr. 3
Pat Flaherty 14
Mark Donohue 7
Ray Harroun 10
Bobby Unser 2
Danny Sullivan 15

A.J. Foyt

A.J. Foyt 1
Joe Dawson/Gaston Chevrolet  16
Jimmy Bryan 8
Jacques Villeneuve 9
Dario Franchitti 5
Lee Wallard 12
Parnelli Jones 4
Jules Goux 13
Arie Luyendyk 6
Troy Ruttman 11
Louis Meyer 3
Kenny Brack 14
Bill Holland 7
Peter De Paolo 10
Mario Andretti 2
Dario Resta 15

Wilbur Shaw
1. Wilbur Shaw
16. Fred Frame/Ray Keech
8. Juan Montoya
9. Scott Dixon
5. Johnny Rutherford
12. Tony Bettenhausen
4. Dan Wheldon
13. Buddy Lazier
6. Michael Andretti
11. Johnnie Parsons
3. Gordon Johncock
14. Sam Hornish
7. Jimmy Murphy
10. Frank Lockhart
2. Helio Castroneves
15. Joe Boyer

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Press Kit Photo of the Day: Dan Gurney and Mike Mosley

The 1981 Pepsi Challenger Eagle-Chevrolet was one of the most interesting cars of that year. The roar of the stock-block engine definitely stood out among the whine of the turbocharged Cosworths used by just about everyone else. The distinctive shape of the Eagle chassis also turned heads. Mike started second, but his car expired 16 laps into the race and he finished last. Mike never had a lot of fortune at Indy (two terrible crashes in 1971 and 1972) but was well-respected by his peers and admired by the fans. Sadly, he died in a highway crash in 1984.

On a lighter note, Dan Gurney never struck me as a hat guy – certainly not a baseball cap guy. He doesn’t look particularly at ease with that Pepsi cap perched on his head, does he? In the official qualifying photo (see the 1981 Carl Hungness yearbook), he’s the only member of the team NOT wearing a ball cap. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Vintage Photo of the Day: Wilbur Shaw

I had the privilege of being the sports editor of the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana (, in Merrillville, Ind., for about five years (2003-2008). During some spring cleaning, I ran across this photo of Wilbur Shaw being “ticketed.” Where is this taking place? My guess would be Lowell because of the (Red?) Devil Delicatessen in the background (Lowell High School’s athletic teams are the Red Devils). 

Based on some other photos I found, it appears that the 1951 winning Belanger car, driven by Lee Wallard, was part of some sort of celebration parade, and perhaps Wilbur Shaw, then president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was on hand. Car owner Murrell Belanger had ties to Lowell, so that all makes sense, but again this is all conjecture on my part. For more on Murrell Belanger, please see the nice story written by my friend William LaDow on his website Bill has written many great stories that originally appeared in the Post-Tribune. He also has an extensively researched book about famed mechanic Ray Nichels coming soon.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fast Thoughts on a Good Start

Quick reaction from the couch on today's season-opening race at St. Petersburg, won by Helio Castroneves:
1.) Thought the Dan Wheldon tribute was handled appropriately. The insight from the drivers - with the perspective time has added - was interesting.
2.) The expected battle royale between Will Power and Dario Franchitti never materialized. Instead the "B" team - Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon - had to carry the day for their respective teams. I'm joking, of course as Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Dixon is a two-time series champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner as well. Their one-two finish is a little reminder to everyone that they're both pretty good, too.
3.) It will be interesting to see if Castroneves can keep up this momentum. Having him be a hot driver heading into this year's Indianapolis 500 would be an excellent storyline.
4.) Not much out of Marco Andretti or Graham Rahal today. The series needs consistently strong results from these two.
5.) Good runs from Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe.
6.) Starting to warm up to the new car. From the back, it still looks too much like a go-cart. But if the body work cuts down on cars launching, it's well worth it. 
7.) Loved the Tony Stewart-Lewis Hamilton ad for Mobil 1.
8.) Didn't remember seeing a Chevrolet-Indy ad. Did I miss it?
9.) Lotus has a lot of work to do. 
10.) Interested to hear what Rubens Barrichello has to say after his first IndyCar race. 
(Photo credit: Shawn Gritzmacher / Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Ready to Roll

Here are the things I’m looking for in today’s opener:
1.)    How racy and, yes, crashworthy the new cars are
2.)    Engine competition
3.)    If anyone – team or driver – can consistently compete with Penske and Ganassi
4.)    What effect Danica Patrick’s absence has on attendance and TV ratings. IndyCar has a fair shot to get at least a decent rating today because it’s on ABC, both the NASCAR race and the NCAA Tournament start well after the green flag drops, there’s no baseball outside of spring training and no major golf events. Frankly, it sets up pretty well.
5.)    The performance of Rubens Barrichello

Driver of the Day: Joe Leonard

Joe Leonard is a driver I wish I had seen more of. His career ended in 1974 after a terrible crash in the Ontario 500 mangled his feet. I always liked his Samonsite cars and the clever way a suitcase was used as the background on Joe’s No. 1, emblematic of his status as national champion. In terms of his 500 career, Joe’s probably best remembered for having his turbine flame out near the end of the 1968 race. Joe set the track record in 1968 and also in 1972. The 1972 mark was surpassed by several in qualifying that year - Tom Carnegie probably set his own track record for saying "It's a new track record." I found this postcard, showing Joe’s 1972 ride, on eBay a couple of years ago. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Power on Pole

Team Penske's Will Power helped make Chevrolet's return to IndyCar racing a rousing success by snagging the pole for Sunday's Honda (!) Grand Prix of St Petersburg. Power led five Chevys at the top of the grid, followed by teammate Ryan Briscoe, Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe and the third Team Penske driver, Helio Castroneves. Here's the release from

IMS Kids Club Package Arrives

Sean’s IMS Kids Club package arrived earlier this week. One key upgrade over last year’s inaugural offering is an autograph book. Last year there was a Sharpie, but no book, so Sean ended up getting his autographs on one of my notebooks. The Kids Club is open to kids 12 and younger and costs $25. Here’s the website if you’d like more information:
Of course, I had to make Sean a charter member when the Kids Club was offered last year. Some suggestions for the future: Find out the child’s favorite driver and include a personalized autographed photo and include a Hot Wheels IndyCar (as opposed to a generic Hot Wheels car). 

Driver of the Day: Bobby Unser

To a then 4-year-old, this is what the Indianapolis 500 is all about. Both the 1972 Olsonite Eagle and Bobby Unser looked the part: blindingly fast car and a driver oozing with charisma. This postcard actually is a replacement for one my mom got me, I believe, at the SuperX Drug Store in the Lafayette Square Mall (my sister got a postcard of Mark Donohue). Or maybe it was at a Hook’s. In any event, our dog CHEWED UP the postcard. Probably 30 years later I found the exact same postcard at the now-closed Mailroom on 16th Street. It is now in an album, safe from gnawing teeth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Let's Get It Started

Well, what a surprise - two Target drivers and two Penske drivers lead the way after the first practice session for St. Petersburg. That would be Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Dario Franchitti, with Simon Pagenaud (!) fifth. Here's the link to the complete list:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Normally, I'm excited about the start of another season. And I am. Sort of. But I'm finding it hard not to think about Dan Wheldon as St. Petersburg approaches. In addition to his dramatic win in last year's Indianapolis 500 and in 2005, Wheldon also won the inaugural race at St. Petersburg, which was the first non-oval in Indy Racing League history. I hope to find the right balance between excitement and, well, reverence as the weekend gets under way. (Photo credit: Jim Haines / Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Taking the green flag

Welcome to my blog on all things Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar. After months of promising (threatening?) to start my own blog, here it is. I will combine my passion as a fan with my experience as a journalist into timely tidbits that inform and entertain. Thanks for joining me on the ride.